Deep in the woods it appears like a sudden apparition: a lone wolf on the path ahead of us. It’s there just long enough for us to register its presence, then it vanishes.

Yes, wolves (and bears) do stalk the rugged interior of Abruzzo, southern Italy, although in the 12 years we’ve holidayed here we’ve never seen one before.

Abruzzo is not a regular tourist haunt — there are no leaning towers or grand canals — but to those who love the wild outdoors it’s idyllic. We follow a steep path in the region’s Gran Sasso National Park, when round a bend we’re startled to meet two people. We normally trek all day without seeing another soul.

Even more surprisingly they’re British — and holding blue and white paint spray guns. Is this a local version of paintball? They introduce themselves as Peter and Dany Wilkinson, who — inspired by their passion for the area and love of trekking and mountain biking — are on a mission to make the uncharted region accessible to all.

‘Why not try the path to the right?’ says Peter.

‘But it goes nowhere,’ I reply, having tried it before when it petered out into brambles. ‘Not now it doesn’t,’ is the response. So we try it.

The path is a revelation — well marked and beautiful. It curves round the mountain and through a steep narrow valley alongside a river. We plunge into deep beech woods flecked with dappled sunlight. A cuckoo calls above us; at our feet grow wild mushrooms.

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